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Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- U.S. Commander Talks Of Light Resistance Patrolling Baghdad's Streets

Prague, 8 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz is in Baghdad with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division. Synovitz today spoke with Major Pete Biagiatti, the operations officer of the division's 1-15 Task Force. Biagiatti -- who served as a New York City police officer before joining the U.S. Army -- is the commander of a Bradley armored fighting vehicle. He and his men have been patrolling the streets on the north side of Baghdad today.

Question: What were you seeing today on your patrol in Baghdad?

Biagiatti: We ran into a lot of dismounted soldiers. The resistance was light. We had a lot of RPGs -- rocket-propelled grenades -- and recoilless rifles fired at us. We destroyed those soldiers. Those that surrender, of course, we take them and process them as EPWs [enemy prisoners of war]. We did today capture several artillery pieces, along with several surface-to-air missiles that we definitely secured today as we continue to move in much more central to Baghdad proper.

Question: Can you describe a "clearing action" like the one you were on today?

Biagiatti: It is a detail-coordinated search where we actually bring all our combined armed-services forces together. We use...integrated air force, artillery, our direct-[fire] systems, both the tank, the Bradley [fighting vehicle] and dismounted soldiers, and what we do is -- there is an area our commander directs us to go clear. We go in their methodically and any resistance that we encounter, we destroy those soldiers. Any of those soldiers that wish to give up, we definitely process them as EPWs and take them to the rear, and we continue to move north into Baghdad. Resistance has been light to moderate. Most of the Iraqi soldiers are [throwing away] their uniforms. They fire one or two shots and are either gone or are taken prisoner.

Question: How does it feel as the commander of a Bradley when you see some civilians suddenly pulling out weapons, while others don't?

Biagiatti: It actually has not been a problem. Our soldiers have been trained specifically for that. We have done this now for more than two weeks, and the soldiers are well-versed in what to look for. They know that they have to be specifically careful to make sure that they identify a combatant, as we call them, with a weapon. If an individual has a weapon, regardless of whether he is in a uniform or not, he has the option -- the soldier makes sure -- first, to surrender, and if not and they are in a threatening manner, they will be terminated in place.

Question: Can you describe your feelings about this kind of fighting?

Biagiatti: It doesn't bother me at all. Regardless of what uniform they are wearing, if they are carrying a weapon and it is pointed towards a coalition soldier, [in a way] that is considered a threatening manner, they are considered combatants and they will be treated accordingly. We are very careful to make sure we identify soldier versus civilian. [Coalition forces] work very hard to make sure that we do not make any type of mistakes that way. Most of the civilians here know, at this point, to stay out of the areas, and they have white flags. They know how to identify themselves to make sure that we know who is friendly and who is foe.

Question: Do you feel confident the war will end quickly, or do you think it will drag on longer?

Biagiatti: I feel very confident. As for making a call out here in the field, we are really kind of cut off from what is going on, newswise. We do get intelligence reports. The soldiers here are prepared to stay as long as they need to to get this mission done. It has been a long time, a long 12 years [since the last Gulf War], and it is time to end this and end it the right way and liberate the Iraqi people and let them govern themselves. But the soldiers are willing to stay here as long as they need to. As for how long, like I said, the [Iraqi] resistance is getting [to be] very little and, like I said, we are almost there, and it is coming to a close for the Iraqi regime.